Friday, March 27, 2015

The real questions about Jeb Bush are about what he's been doing since leaving office.

Lately all the speculation about Jeb Bush has focused on his last name,  asking whether as a ‘Bush’ he can win following his father and his brother. Both left the Presidency in the midst of recessions and his brother is also associated with unpopular and ruinous adventures abroad.

In so doing, the focus has not been sufficiently on Jeb himself.  Occasionally stories do come out—for example when the Clinton email flap surfaced, it was pointed out that  JebBush used his own private email server while he was Governor  but in fact that is something of a non issue since apparently it’s the norm among potential presidential candidates.

But the big story regarding Jeb Bush is not what he did WHILE he was Governor, it’s what he did after leaving office.  His first job was as a paid consultant to Lehman Brothers bank.  In case you forgot, Lehman Brothers was the touchstone for the economic collapse. During the 2000’s, rampant speculation in the housing market and the quick money to be turned as a result led a number of banks, including Lehman Brothers, to invest their money in risky investments tied to home mortgages that quickly turned bad when the housing market tanked. And what did Jeb do for Lehman Brothers?  Well, he was assigned a special mission (while his brother was still in the White House.)  Jeb was asked to go to Mexico and try to persuade billionaire Carlos Slim to bail out the company.

Slim, the world’s second richest man, patiently listened to Jeb’s plea, but could see where Lehman Brothers was headed and wanted no part of propping it up to stave off the inevitable collapse.  It is hard to imagine that Jeb, who is supposed to be brainy, didn’t see it as well. So as a consultant, one has to question either his judgment in trying to get people to invest in a bank that was sinking like the Titanic if he was one of the few in the company who didn’t see that, or his ethics if he did see what was happening.

So after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, did Jeb leave the banking business? Not at all.  In fact, he moved on to a position as a consultant with of the British banking giant Barclay’s (a position he kept until very recently when he resigned all of his board positions and other positions in order to begin putting together a run for President.) So how did Barclay’s do with Jeb Bush advising them?

He stepped into Barclay’s as the company was actively working to manipulate LIBOR,  officially the “London Interbank Offered Rate,” which is a key rate used to set fixed interest rates.  Barclay’s continued with the collusion of several other large banks including the Royal Bank of Scotland, JP Morgan-Chase, Deutsche Bank and Citibank  (which it is hard to imagine a financial consultant would be unaware of) to manipulate the rates until in 2011 when it was reported that the banks were under investigation and then in February 2012 when the scheme unraveled.  Eventually Barclay’s agreed to fines of nearly half a billion dollars to several different international regulatory agencies. As part of their agreement with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Barclay’s agreed that some fixed interest rates may have changed as a result of the manipulation.
   This is not a small thing.  One memo between a trader and Barclay’s revealed that  for each basis point (0.01%) that Libor was moved, those involved could net, "about a couple of million dollars."

After Barclay’s got out of the business of manipulating interest rates (or at least we would hope) they moved on to currency.  Some of the same banks Barclay’s colluded with on LIBOR, discovered a new way to gamble with the economy in order to skim some money off the top.  They all colluded on foreign currency exchange rates. In theory international currency is supposed to ‘float,’ so that people who want to, for example, trade in their Euros for dollars can do so at a rate that is set purely by the international markets;  high demand for a currency makes it more expensive and lower demand reduces the price.  However, the banks discovered they could move the price around the edges, and as a result make a lot of money by investing in currency that they could then move the exchange rate just enough to make a profit.  Never mind of course that the profit they made means someone else lost money,  they found they could make money, and a lot of it. After being burned by the LIBOR fine, Barclays’ this time became the ‘snitch’ in the group and essentially ratted out the others ; in exchange for a smaller fine.  Because of their cooperation, Barclays was subject to a fine but got a ‘deferred prosecution agreement’ which in effect means they don’t actually have to pay the fine.  All they have to do is keep their nose clean.

That can’t be too hard, can it? Apparently, it is pretty hard, for big banks anyway.   Like a hungry swarm of locusts, the same clique of megabanks (including Barclay’s) that had such a big role in manipulating interest rates and currency exchanges,  moved on to manipulating the price of metals.   As before, the banks raked in big profits while small investors were left holding the bag for the losses on one side of an equation where the other side turned into big bucks for banks.  The investigation into price fixing in the metals markets is ongoing, but suffice it to say that I suspect a lot of ‘gold bugs’ will be furious that instead of the free market determining the price of their favorite metal, it was instead a small group of deeply pocketed bankers who decided what it would be.  And again, any consultant on any bank that was unaware of the metal price manipulation (especially after having gone through the LIBOR and FOREX,  or foreign currency exchange manipulation scandals)  would have been completely absent in their duties to pay attention to who they were working for. Maybe that's why the establishment wants Jeb so much.  Some apologists for his brother claim George W. was 'out to lunch' and could be manipulated by a Praetorian Guard who could pull his strings.  Jeb's work for Barclays when they were involved in financial scandal after financial scandal after financial scandal seems to suggest that that might be the case.

It is true that there is more that could be said about Jeb Bush and the record of corporations he has worked for or been on the board of both in and outside of the banking industry since leaving office, but the most important thing that can be pointed out is this, because it speaks to the entire outlook of the organization he was advising at Barclay’s:  The year (2013-2014) when profits fell 22% (largely because of fines) and the bank was caught up in three major scandals  (in other words a bad year for Barclay’s)  the bank   laid off 19,000 people  followed by an announcement they would   lay off another 12,000 people    because of an abysmal earnings report.

BUT what did Barclay's do after the abysmal performance and layoffs of thousands of people?  What the boards of large companies often do these days (too often):   paid 481 people at the top enormous bonuses of over a million pounds (meaning substantially over a million dollars) apiece.  This reward voted by the members of the board of the bank that Jeb Bush was advising is a depressingly familiar narrative.  The members of the Board (millionaires themselves)  apparently at least understand and do not hold responsible the millionaires who work for them at the top of the company (including those Jeb was working with,) and understand them well enough to give them massive bonuses even when they do a poor job or harm the company by exposing it to unwarranted risk. So what did Jeb Bush do?  Simple. Continued advising Barclay's.

So to summarize, after sustaining losses but rewarding the people in charge (likely the only ones the Board Members see very often)  the bank Jeb was advising balanced the books by cutting the jobs of secretaries, data analysts and computer techs, and perhaps also others who take orders from the people who actually were in charge and caused the poor performance in the first place.

That kind of thinking,  making the poor pay for the sins of the rich while rewarding the rich for sinning is standard fare for modern conservatives.  But a letdown if you were optimistic that somehow this Bush would be different.


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